The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) continues to monitor COVID-19 epidemiological indicators to quickly detect, understand and communicate emerging issues of concern. The following is a brief summary with the latest national numbers and trends.
Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 1,922,227 cases of COVID-19 and 30,113 deaths reported in Canada. These cumulative numbers tell us about the overall burden of COVID-19 illness to date, while the number of active cases, now at 82,708, and 7-day moving averages indicate current disease activity and severity trends.
The number of cases associated with the Omicron variant of concern has further accelerated around the world and in Canada. Accumulating data continue to demonstrate that Omicron is the most highly transmissible variant to date and that prior immunity, either from vaccination with a two-dose primary series or previous infection, does not offer good protection against infection. There may be protection from severe disease after two doses, but this remains uncertain. Importantly, getting a booster dose when eligible, with either Pfizer Comirnaty or Moderna Spikevax mRNA vaccines, is expected to help restore protection that may have waned since the second dose.
Although there is still uncertainty regarding the severity profile of Omicron variant cases, and given concerns about the potential impact of a sudden and strong surge on the healthcare system, I am urging all Canadians reduce their contacts as much as possible. Although the situation is not the same everywhere, the Omicron variant spreads extremely quickly and the local situation can rapidly get out of hand so increased vigilance is needed across Canada now and in the coming weeks.
During the latest 7 day period (Dec 16-22), an average of 10,167 new cases were reported across Canada, which is an increase of 120% compared to the previous week. Of these, as of December 22, 2021, there have been 3,536 cases confirmed with the Omicron variant, reported in 12 provinces and territories; however, these cases likely represent just the tip of the iceberg. Community transmission of Omicron is ongoing in many parts of Canada and outbreaks are being reported in a multiple settings and Omicron is now the dominant variant in several jurisdictions.
Currently, hospitalisation and critical care admission trends, are increasing in Ontario and Quebec, driving the national trend. As noted above, continued rapid increase in Omicron cases is expected to add additional strain on the healthcare system, impacting many areas of the country over the coming weeks. The latest provincial and territorial data show that an average of 1,534 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent 7-day period (Dec 16-22), which is 6% higher than last week. This includes, on average, 459 people who were being treated in intensive care units (ICU), 1.5% more than last week and an average of 17 deaths were reported daily (Dec 16-22). Keeping infection rates down remains key to avoiding renewed increases in severe illness trends over the coming weeks and months as well as to ease longer-term strain on the health system, particularly in heavily impacted areas.
As of December 22, 2021, provinces and territories have administered over 66 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines. The latest provincial and territorial data indicate that over 82% of the total population has received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and over 76% are now fully vaccinated. Age-specific vaccine coverage data, as of December 18, 2021, show that over 89% of people 40 years or older have at least one dose and over 87% are fully vaccinated, while over 86% of younger adults aged 18-39 years have at least one dose and 82% are fully vaccinated.
Among children aged 5-11 years, 40% have now received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. As the pediatric vaccination program rolls out across Canada, I encourage parents and guardians to seek credible information from trusted sources, such as Canada.ca to make informed decisions about COVID-19 vaccination. I also urge healthcare providers and others to support children and their caregivers by listening, sharing credible information, and engaging in respectful dialogue.
In consideration of emerging evidence on waning protection of vaccines over time, the National Advisory Committee for Immunization recently updated their guidance regarding booster doses of COVID-19 mRNA vaccine for adults 18 years of age and over, who are at least 6 months from completing their primary series. Immunization for those who are eligible – but have not yet received their primary series – remains a top priority.
While COVID-19 is still circulating in Canada and internationally, a vaccines plus approach continues to be essential to the pandemic response in Canada. This includes layering vaccination with timed and targeted public health measures and individual protective practices such as staying home/self-isolating if you have symptoms; getting tested if symptomatic and/or as recommended; being aware of risks associated with different settings; following local public health advice and consistently maintaining individual precautions. In particular, properly wearing a well-fitted and well-constructed face mask when in public or private spaces with others outside of your immediate household, avoiding crowding, and getting the best ventilation possible in indoor spaces, are layers of protection that can reduce your risk in all settings. As well, given the significant risks and uncertainties associated with rapidly expanding spread of the Omicron variant, Canadians are advised to avoid all non-essential travel outside of Canada at this time; if you must travel, be aware of current and rapidly evolving requirements for visiting other countries and for returning to Canada.
In addition to getting fully vaccinated with COVID-19 vaccines and getting a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose as recommended, we can also stay healthier during the winter respiratory season by getting up-to-date with recommended vaccines, such as influenza and other routine vaccines for children and adults. For additional information regarding vaccination in your area, reach out to your local public health authorities, healthcare provider, or other trusted and credible sources, such as Canada.ca and Immunize.ca. Canada.ca provides a broad range of COVID-19 information and resources to help Canadians understand the benefits of being vaccinated against COVID-19.
Canadians can also go the extra mile by sharing credible information on COVID-19 risks and prevention practices and measures to reduce COVID-19 in communities. Read my backgrounder to access more COVID-19 Information and Resources on ways to reduce the risks and protect yourself and others, including information on COVID-19 vaccination.